The Riesling Chronicles, Part One: Old vs. New

Wine people are obsessed with Riesling. The following story will prove my point. At a Santa Maria promotional tasting, organized by a somm friend of mine for wine professionals, after making our way through the producer’s 2011-2017 Pinot Noir (then doubling our way back to 2004), in front of the Pinot producer my friend was working for, I witnessed him whip out a bottle of Alsatian Riesling to like, REALLY blow our minds. And then—surprise! —another somm friend pulled out a different Riesling for a lil’ Alsace-off. It’s sorta how wine bros wrestle. Riesling is THAT compelling. There’s acidity that thrills you to see another day. Complex aromas. The ability to be fantastic whether dry or sweet. Albeit the ability to be both sweet and exceptional is no guarantee. There’s a lot of sweet and sh*#ty examples. Ergo many hear “Riesling”, and think “sub-par sweet”. Then they taste a dry Riesling, or at least a GOOD sweet one, and…minds blown. Basically, Riesling is the sweet nerd chick in an 80’s movie. When the somm/quarterback brings her to the prom with her spectacles off, everyone is like “Wow! That chick is delicious! I mean dry! I mean hot!” Riesling is an undercover babe. A decade or so later, at reunion, everyone will be like damnnnnn Riesling is looking great! Maybe not voted “least changed”, but possibly voted “better with age”? Is that a thing? At any rate, good Riesling can get even better with some years in the bottle. I was an ugly duckling youth, so I really feel an affinity. Not that I’m as good as Riesling. Who is? It was hard to narrow my Riesling scope down, in terms of both style and regions. For this investigation’s purposes I decided to only sample dry to off-dry examples. I think I’m saving the sweeter renditions (including Eiswein !) for a German Riesling-specific column. Also, I needed a reason to have another Riesling article, okay? As for where to investigate…Germany, of course. Alsace? Mais oui. Austria had to be included because come on, give Austria a shot. Australia was also a shoe-in. But when it came to the United States, I knew New York was a must. But were both California AND Washington necessary? Washington was. As for California, apologies to my adopted home, you’re on the bleachers for this one. Keep working to develop a Riesling identity. I also went with youthful (no more than six years) Rieslings because aged Riesling is yet another investigation…do we have a three-parter? Can I invent a never-ending list of investigative Riesling reporting so that I never come down from this acid-washed high? I don’t know, but let’s start with comparing the world’s youthful dry to off-dry lovelies. Favorite and shower Riesling at the end. Read on. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ ALSACE Only three clones allowed! Alsace’s rules are as exacting as their wines. In pitting Alsatian Rieslings against others—I found them drier but fleshy. Full but dry…wait I think semantically that is the same thing but emotionally it isn’t? All in all, exquisitely balanced and also my favorite Rieslings to spring on “I don’t like Riesling because it’s sweet” people. 2016 Cave de Ribeauville Osterberg Grand Cru Rubens in figure but dry. Dry and almost desiccated fruit on the nose. On the palate, it packs a wallop. Some citrus pushes through. Then peach and hints of floral just lilt in there. On the nose, there’s a touch of almond extract? Something hinting at white chocolate or miso too. Intrigue galore. 2017 Domaines Schlumberger Grand Cru Saaring Riesling Loads of white stone fruit (nectarines, peaches), like the type of stone fruit that is floral too…plus honeydew melon and actually the rind of the fruit too; there’s something green and raw about it that interests me. It’s a heavyweight with high alcohol (14% is way high for Riesling) and high acid; this is one of the more bracing Alsatian Rieslings I’ve hung with. Then there’s a little bit of something I wanna call dank, but that is the wrong word. A bitterness that comes with the ripe melon and stone fruit. AUSTRALIA Known for being lime-y! And famously like tennis ball cans/fresh-cut garden hose. I’ll be honest, if I were blind-tasted on many Aussie Rieslings, beyond the searing acidity, it maybe would take me a minute to get to Riesling and golly…all I know is I’d want a second glass. 2020 Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Dry Riesling Very citrus-y and yet there was something cushy on the nose that made me think of marshmallows. Very slight hints of honeysuckle and lilies hiding beneath it all. Oodles of grapefruit too. Both prickly and at the same time soft on the palate—more fleshy fruit, like lime left in the sun, or so I imagine never having been a lime-drier. It hits the tip of my tongue with a prickle, and somehow, I get the acid burn on the back palate and only then do I feel it soften from the tip of the tongue to spread across my palate, like it somehow leapt to the future and then came back having corrected the past. Hits way the heck above its weight, pricewise. 2018 Riverside Vintner’s Powell & Son Eden Valley Riesling Citrus and petrol up front. Ten minutes later the florals come out. The palate it is searing, soaring; it’s a bird; it’s a plane; it’s Aussie Riesling! Dry, almost effervescent, so sour orange plus, yes, the trademark lime that errors in the way of Key lime and also…rubber cement? Is that it? I think so. So gigantic but so linear, like a very tall supermodel. With a tan. Because that Aussie sun. AUSTRIA I confess I hadn’t had much in the way of Austrian Rieslings before, but the ones I tried were…zingy! Tingley. Linear and dry and straightforward; a blank wall with enchanting shadow puppets dancing across them, illuminating without overtly yelling “hey, I have minerality; I have stone fruit; I had citrus, citrus blossom, and swag”. So subtle they aren’t. Granted I tasted the ones that weren’t “smaragd”, which is an ultraripe level. Maybe I save that for yet another Riesling column? Is this a four-parter? 2020 Markus Huber Terrassen Riesling Upon smelling it, I almost shuddered in a good way. This wine is zingy. Peppy. Energetic. Smells both like orange blossoms and, somehow, cream soda? On the palate, it’s velvet with sparkling rhinestones which is to say it both prickles and caresses. Tastes of more citrus—lime especially. There is a hint of vanilla to it too which is interesting, all with a white nectarine and honeysuckle finish. 2020 Brundlmayer Kamptaler Terrasen Riesling Zip a dee doo yas! SOOO refreshing and mineral/herbal. A lightning rod, channeling energy from a peppery lemon balm nose, to an acid-driven palate complete with underripe kumquat and soft-spoken orange blossom water accented by a marinated apricot keep it going. It’s gonna age for the ages. I feel bad I opened it this early. But alas journalistic duties… GERMANY Ooh ah, Riesling’s birthplace! Where most of it seems to be grown on life-threatening (sometimes life-taking) steep riverside hills from the Mosel to the Rhine to the Nahe. Rivers are good helper-friends in terms of helping grapes ripen in such cold climes. Somehow German Rieslings are… all enchantingly German…why? Stone fruit, flowers, and a certain lightness of energy seem to show up time after time. Balance? Flowers and zip? I am still attempting to find an adequate adjective. All I know is German Rieslings taste like…German Rieslings. 2020 Dönnhoff Roxheimer Höllenpfad Riesling Trocken A delightful Erste Lage (basically premier cru) dry…delight. It was the most floral of all the German wines I sampled in this oh so scientific investigation. I get all the flowers and a hint of jasmine and white peach on the sniffer. On the palate, it’s dry, obvi (that’s what trocken means!), and energetic, but rather than shooting through my mouth it skips and hopscotches throwing out flowers like…a flower girl? With a mineral end. 2020 Clean Slate Mosel Riesling Perhaps it is the power of persuasion, but smelling the delicate nose, I thought to myself “this smells clean”. And being from the Mosel, it almost certainly was grown on slate, so I appreciate the truth in advertising. Delicate all over. White peaches and honeysuckle say hi on the nose. It glides like chiffon across the palate until you swallow, and the acid hits making the finish, if not long, at least exciting. There’s a goodly amount of ripe white nectarine and honeycomb, lemon and mineral. Quenches that Riesling thirst and then some. 2019 Weingut Jakob Schneider Niederhauser Riesling Kabinett From the Nahe! It is mineral, peach, and acacia on the nose. Off-dry on the palate. Medium weight and fresh AF. Rich but light, lemon and honeydew, but like the ripppppe honeydew that has been sitting in the sun. But cold sunshine. Cold sunshine fun. NEW YORK My New York Riesling findings were rich but chiseled? Ooooooh it gets nippy there! Maybe even too cold for hearty varieties like Riesling if it weren’t for the magic of the Finger Lakes, everyone’s favorite glacial lakes. Of which there are 11, but not gonna shame the state for its digital differences. Maybe we could all use an 11th finger. 2019 Hillick & Hobbs Seneca Lake Dry Estate Vineyard Riesling A golden delight, this one specifically from Seneca Lake—the deepest of the bunch. It manages to look lush and golden, to feel both expansive and pointed, in the same turn. Very bruised apple-y, plush orange-blossom-y, and if that were a cocktail, someone expressed a lime peel over it before discarding. And there’s a petrol-y finish I find delightful. I really love the balance between zing and (find word for spreading out and relaxing) energy this has. 2019 Hermann J. Wiemer HJW Bio Riesling I took one sip of this and nearly slammed my glass down—F#*K YES! And then didn’t slam my glass because it was a Zalto so that would be a bad move. Just when you’ve tasted a gajilliion things and some are great, but nothing produces the “F#*K YES” response…then you get something so complex and sapid. Smells like riches. Gold floating on clouds rich with rainwater. On the palate, it gets mysterious…is it gold? Myrhh? Frankincense? Honeysuckle? Why wasn’t there a fourth king to bring honeysuckle? Finishes like fresh…something? I dunno what this wine is; a tasting note all itself. 2017 Red Newt Cellars Dry Riesling Herbal AF, and I’m here for it! On the nose, it’s enchanting floral plus (not necessarily textbook) herbal (rosemary and basil) with a hint of…eventual petrol? Or am I projecting as this is Riesling? On the palate, it has a certain rhythm to it; herbs and flowers pulsing through my mouth with a regular beat. A wine with pattern to its intensity. Tastes of all the stuff I mentioned on the nose, but the palate leans less towards flowers and more towards fruit—some apple and pear but stone too. Finishes bitter-ripe. Which is sorta like bittersweet except this wine is definitely dry. WASHINGTON I feel like I haven’t found a “Washington style”. From what I’ve tried, it veers towards dry and aromatic. Not so rich. Many of them felt the lightest in body. I’d say the swill-worthy, but the ones I’ve enjoyed have enough for you to not want to swill, even if it is easy to quaff. They smell super fresh and just ripe and are light on the tongue and ladylike on the flavor. None over-estimate. Nose makes you think they may, but nah, you can ingest delicately with maximum pleasure 2019 Corvidae Yakima Valley, Columbia Valley, Washington Meyer lemon that leads to a wedding bouquet (that’s right, a wedding one; I’m about to be a bridesmaid for the third time, so apologies for my analogies) of white rose. Actually, smelling it assured both promise of a happy life along with certainty things will never be simple. On the palate, more of that wedding bouquet, tossed backwards overhead and hitting the ready or not sweet yellow grapefruit while white Saturn peach and vibrant minerality cheer it on. 2020 Kung Fu Girl Smells of apples, a bit of gas. More honeyed on the palate. Some tangerine. White pepper? It’s fun, it’s chill, it has the ripeness I tasted of the other us regions—but a bit simpler with more delicate florals lingering. Also my favorite supermarket Riesling. Those are valuable. CONCLUSIONS Interestingly, elements of Austrian and Australian Rieslings reminded me of each other. German Rieslings felt German. We covered that. New York was exquisite, and Washington is doing a delicate dance, thoughtfully. Alsace had vibes somewhere between New York and Austria. It could be that wine is like color. Many colors of the rainbow could be called a mix of this or that…purple is half red half blue…green is half blue and yellow, yet the iterations of the colors within: lilac, teal, rust…are all their own thing. And even when the grade of darkness and lightness is manipulated they remain intrinsically their own thing. So, is it that all the Riesling regions have a spin that I could try to break down to primary colors, but they are better connected to on their own terms? Kinda seems that way. Did I have a favorite? Maybe it’s the novelty of it, but Austria delighted me. But also New York was killing it. And maybe if I’d been doing aged Riesling, Germany would have dived into the winner’s circle. It’s impossible to name a favorite, but I can say I want the world to try more Riesling from Austria and New York. As for shower Riesling…all of them? Riesling seems like the ultimate variety to be at home under the spray—refreshing even when sweet! Floral aromas complimenting body wash! Riesling was made for bathing. But! I’m declaring Brundlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen is the winer. I mean winner. Wow that was a fortuitous typo. It is the zingy-est of the zingers, and my, was there some zing competition in this investigation. Riesling is a winner all over. Which is why I may need to write three more pieces on it. Stay tuned. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: Love Wine The Art of Wine Labels A Grand Crew Indeed Resolutionary Wine Lit Wine Perfect Pie Pairings You can also listen to Ellen's podcast , The Wine Situation here . Check out her recent transcripts of the Final Five questions: Wine Situation Final Five! With Lamar Woods Wine Situation Final Five! With John Taylor

Weingut Jakob Schneider

Niederhäuser Kabinett Nahe Riesling 2019

Off dry and energizing the way cold weather sunshine is. — 2 years ago

Serge, Jason and 13 others liked this
Ellen Clifford

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Braising bruised fruit-ing ready to take us into autumn and beyond

Cave de Ribeauvillé

Osterberg Alsace Grand Cru AOC Riesling 2016

Intriguing sip by sip just when you think you know it this gives you something more. Upfront citrus, peach, and some flowers. Then all sorts of elements get into a whole medley from almond extract to miso. Such fun. — 2 years ago

Serge, Bob and 12 others liked this
Brent Young

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That does sound fun 👍
Ellen Clifford

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@Brent Young woooo-eeee it was!

Huber (Markus Huber)

Terrassen Traisental Riesling 2020

Whoa there’s so much happening from cream soda and orange blossoms to vanilla lime livelyness…with a lightning rod running through-eth — 3 years ago

Paul, Serge and 15 others liked this

Dönnhoff

Riesling Roxheimer Höllenpfad trocken 2020

Hardcore flower fun. Dry. Delightful. — 2 years ago

Paul, Serge and 15 others liked this
MaJ CappS

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Excellent producer!

Riverside Vintners

Powell & Son Eden Valley Riesling 2018

A soaring wine—linear but wearing bright bold patterns. So like limes flowers patrol and so on but streamlined. — 2 years ago

Serge, Severn and 11 others liked this

Domaines Schlumberger

Saering Alsace Grand Cru Riesling 2017

What a champion this wine is—big alcohol, big acid and a whoosh of butter that cuts through white stone fruit aka those ones that have a floral component. — 2 years ago

Paul, Serge and 13 others liked this

Hermann J. Wiemer

HJW Bio Riesling 2019

Honestly I don’t remember the last time a wine made me shriek “F#iK YEAH” so... let’s lead with that this is sapid AF. One of those wines that is so layered but also you get them all at the same time so you are smacked down with I dunno...perfection? Really rich in ripeness that feels like a clove studded orange to me. Something that hits like lemonheads but maybe gold and mysterious incense...gold myth and frankincense? It’s hard to give precise taste metaphors when a wine is unapologetically itself. Why find tasting notes on a wine if the wine could be the taste itself? — 2 years ago

Severn, Aaron and 15 others liked this
Ellen Clifford

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@Richard Jayson glad you enjoyed the review!
Trixie

Trixie

Really intriguing notes! Happy cheers!🥂
Ellen Clifford

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thanks @Trixie ! Hope you can try this one of these days, it’s goooood

Weingut Bründlmayer

Terrassen Kamptal Riesling 2020

Energetic and so refreshing and so much that makes me know this will go on. I likely opened too early but I’m not sad. I am sad I don’t have another few bottles to age — 2 years ago

Paul, Serge and 16 others liked this

Corvidae Wine (Owen Roe)

Ravenna Riesling 2019

Meyer lemons and white roses and more — 3 years ago

Serge, Jason and 11 others liked this
MaJ CappS

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That label speaks to me.
Ellen Clifford

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@MaJ CappS same here! I actually saved the bottle on account of coolness